Selected postings from east-timor (reg.easttimor)

Subject: Cane toads in ADF Timor base 'common knowledge'

also Haburas Foundation - Cane Toads in T-L?

Cane toads in ADF Timor base 'common knowledge'

John Kidman

September 16, 2008 - 2:51PM

Senior military personnel knew Australian troops were responsible for introducing cane toads to East Timor two years ago, it has been alleged.

The presence of the toxic amphibians inside the Australian Defence Force Camp Phoenix compound in Dili in mid-2006 was common knowledge, Defence Force sources have told The Sun-Herald.

At the time, they were exclusive to the base and could have been eradicated but nothing was done.

It was revealed last Tuesday that Australia's most destructive pest is present throughout Dili and had also spread to several regional areas of the fledgling nation.

Defence Department officials are playing down claims the toads made the 650-kilometre jump by hitching a ride with East Timor-bound Australian military vehicles or supply shipments, arguing that it was impossible to tell how, when and exactly where they arrived.

However, soldiers formerly stationed at Phoenix say they have no doubt, and that quarantine measures which could have checked the infestation were non-existent.

Greens leader Bob Brown has described the migration as an international biological emergency demanding dramatic Federal Government intervention.

"It's evident that a wide area is already under threat and there's the potential for the toads to spread quickly to the Indonesian archipelago, Papua New Guinea and into South-East Asia," Mr Brown said.

Asked to estimate the likely cost of such a major eradication operation, he replied: "Whatever. It doesn't matter. It will be nothing compared to that of the cane toads doing their lethal worst.

"It's something I'll be putting in very strong terms before the Senate this week."

Speaking in Darwin last week, Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said he had yet to speak to Australian Defence Force head, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston about the issue but believed the Defence Force had "very strict quarantine controls".

In a statement the following day, the Defence Force said both government and non-government equipment had been transported to East Timor from a number of Australian ports during the past nine years.

However, troop sources were adamant the toads first appeared solely inside Phoenix between July and September, 2006.

"Everyone to the rank of brigadier was required to do night picket duty; there was no way you could miss them," one soldier, who asked not to be named, said.

"You'd be out there for two hours at the front gate or on roving patrol and, basically, they were the only things moving. One of the majors stationed there was known to amuse himself by running around jumping on them."

Another infantry source said: "There were no toads at the time over the road in Crocodile Alley, there were none dead on the roads outside the base and none at the [Air Point of Departure] camp. They were only inside Phoenix.

"Early on, if they had done a collection each night they might have caught the problem but they didn't and it was obviously then just a matter of time before they got into the open drains in the Caicoli fields next door."

Dili-based Care International spokesman Simplicio Barbosa told ABC Radio last week: "There are so many toads in East Timor; they are brought in by the INTERFET [the International Force for East Timor]. We don't know how to get them away, how to kill them."

The Defence Force said it was unable to verify the latest claims. A spokeswoman told The Sun-Herald that Australian facilities in East Timor were subject to stringent environmental health checks and various eradication procedures.

However, sources vehemently rejected this, claiming there were no dedicated environmental officers assigned to Dili's Operation Astute and that the only "pests" eradicated were local cats that had ventured on to the base in search of rats.

Source: The Sun-Herald


All publicity is Good Publicity! - Cane Toads in Timor Leste?

The Haburas Foundation wishes to thank Prof. Ric Shine for his expert opinions on the identification of the toads that have been found in TL. This kind of strong specialist knowledge is exactly what this country needs in its battle against invasive alien (non-native) species.

However we would like to draw attention to the wider issue, which is that no conclusive academic study on the presence, or absence of the cane toad Bufo marinus has been made. It is still therefore a matter of up-most importance that swift and accurate measures are taken to qualify and quantify this potential disaster.

Thus Haburas are calling for a moratorium on the debate over the three photographed specimens taken from a single site, and instead to focus on an urgent, coordinated effort to proactively identify this potentially massive threat throughout TL. A precautionary approach must be adopted, with a brief risk assessment (a standard procedure in ASEAN countries, particularly those that share watersheds and trade vectors), possibly followed by an urgent and sizable damage limitation operation.

The evidence for and against an Australian army assisted migration is subjective and will likely never be conclusive. There is however some anecdotal evidence that should be heard - i.e. the statements from Australian Defense Force soldiers in The Sun-Herald reporting that they have no doubt about the 2006 infestation of cane toads in the Phoenix compound, or about the non-existent quarantine measures that could have nipped the problem in the bud. While these stories may not be based on scientific evidence, surely given the severity of the potential problem, they are worth investigating.

Due to the unsurpassed expertise that the Australian government has in this field, and the likelihood that if there is a Bufo marinus trans-boundary migration, it is from Australia, Haburas are urging both the Timorese and Australian governments to put this topic high on their agendas, and subsequently collaborate and coordinate efforts towards its determination.

Finally, from Australia's strong academic expertise, Haburas is openly requesting assistance for field examination capacity, advice or other that will contribute to a swift resolution to this regional problem.

Nicholas Molyneux

Sustainable Environment Capacity Building Advisor to The Haburas Foundation



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